I have been blessed enough to travel across the United States over the past few years. I love trying new foods from different places but there are times when I become homesick for southern cooking. The one item I can usually find anywhere that reminds me of my Georgia home is meatloaf. I have had it smoked, baked, and roasted, and made from beef, pork, poultry, and even lamb.
As I talk about recipes especially with meat, I am always bombarded with questions about time and temperature (Time & Temp? In bbq forum slang). It is a completely valid question but the answer always varies except in one key area. Whether you cook at 325, 350, 375, 400, 425 or even 500 degrees Fahrenheit, the entire goal is for your meatloaf to reach an internal temperature of at least 160 oF for beef and pork meatloaf and 165 oF for chicken and turkey meatloaf.
While operating at a consistent 400 degrees F cooking temperature, reaching a safe internal temperature should take about 40 minutes. My best advice is that just because the 40-minute timer goes off it does not mean that the meatloaf is done but more accurately this is when it should be checked for doneness. Meatloaf is usually reliable in terms of cooking time but safety is important.
My absolute favorite new toy is a meat probe thermometer. I can insert the probe into my meatloaf and see the internal temperature from a device on my kitchen counter. This means I get an accurate temperature read throughout the entire cook and I don’t have to open my oven or smoker door to check the temperature thus releasing heat causing the oven or smoker temperatures to decrease.
Other methods of checking for doneness include ensuring the liquid coming from the meatloaf is clear or giving the meatloaf a gentle squeeze to see if it returns to shape. You could also slice the meatloaf to see if it is done consistently.
I still prefer probe readings to other methods and it takes the guesswork away. Note: Once the meatloaf passes the ideal internal temperature it will begin to lose moisture resulting in dry, tough meatloaf so accuracy should be emphasized.
There are several reasons cooking times will vary. Gas and electric ovens are different and produce convection waves that differ in form.
All meats vary in density and the coarseness of the grind used for meat can produce different results. Allowing 30-minutes to let the meat come to room temperature will help even out the cooking time.
Dense vegetables are sometimes used in meatloaf recipes and can change the overall consistency of the meatloaf. Most cooks agree that caramelizing or simply softening vegetables such as carrots and onions before mixing with the ground meat will produce the best meatloaf.
A 1 pound meatloaf cooked at 400 degrees fahrenheit should be done in about 40-minutes but we want to make certain of this by checking the internal temperature with a probe thermometer to ensure that it has reached 160 oF for beef and pork and 165 oF for chicken and turkey meatloaf. Those internal temperatures will present the juiciest and most tender meatloaf imaginable.